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Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Hey, it's Tuesdays with Hoopsbag

By Eamonn Brennan

Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Per the usual, we begin with a video. Not per the usual, we're publishing the Hoopsbag on a new day -- a new weekly home for a new season, as it were. Off we go:

@KennyOcker writes: Why are we moving the Hoopsbag to Tuesdays?

Eamonn Brennan: This was one of the first questions I got on Twitter last night. I have to say, I'm sort of surprised anyone noticed, let alone cares, what day the 'Bag shows up at your pixelated doorstep. Then again, I can understand the desire for routine: Every week my copy of the New Yorker, which I specifically want to read in paper format -- it feels like the only right way to read the New Yorker, you know? -- comes on a different day. Sometimes it's Tuesday. Sometimes it's Thursday. I think it's supposed to come on Monday, or at least that's when people in New York get it. Either way, it's is incredibly frustrating.

In any case, we're switching up the Hoopsbag for the simplest of reasons: It simply fits into our schedule better this way. This season, my lone consistent day off will be on Wednesday. (From here on out, my weekends are pretty much shot. This makes for a hermetic lifestyle, but it saves me money. And in the words of Hyman Roth, this is the business we've chosen.) Building and writing the Hoopsbag on my day off is probably not the best way to stay sane, all things considered. Plus, it works better for my editor, Edge, whose job it is to make sure you have a spate of new and glorious content to read each and every day on the men's basketball home. Edge is our mastermind. I am but a lowly grunt in the Light Brigade: Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to post Synergy breakdowns and trick shot videos. That's a direct passage from Lord Tennyson, by the way.

In any case, look for the Hoospbag on Tuesdays going forward, and be sure to send your questions to one of the above links a little earlier than in editions past. Got it? Got it. Good. (And as always, thanks for reading and sending in your stuff. You are deeply appreciated.)

Let's step back in front of the curtain, shall we? Onward and upward, with actual basketball discussion:


Ryan Hall in Longs, S.C. writes: Due to his recent performances, do you think Quinn Cook should be the permanent starting point guard for Duke?

Brennan: That might be a little premature, because Cook has played truly significant minutes in just three recent games. Those opponents: UNC-Greensboro, Western Michigan, Penn. Those aren't exactly high-pressure situations, and the oft-used Winston Wolfe paraphrase is probably appropriate here.

That said ... Cook has looked fantastic since recovering from nagging early season knee injuries. He's been hyperefficient in the minutes he's played, posting an offensive rating of 137.8 and an assist rate of 34.8, both of which are insanely good for anyone, let alone a freshman point guard competing for minutes with the likes of Austin Rivers and Seth Curry. And people are starting to take notice. Cook was named the ACC Rookie of the Week last week, and the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy rounded up the following quotes from Coach K, who has been using Cook as an alternate alongside fellow reserve Tyler Thornton in recent weeks:
“We had a chance to make that change just before the Christmas holidays for Tyler,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told the media following Duke’s win Sunday over Penn “Then over the Christmas holidays we evaluated and Quinn physically is better able to do that than he was even at the start of the regular season. He’s gotten stronger. His knees are better. He’s in better shape. He’s had more reps. So we wanted in these two games to take a look at alternating them.

“When we keep a fresh guy there we can push the ball and pressure the ball. Against these two opponents it worked well and we’ll see if it continues to work well. It is a different take than we’ve had the last few years. I think what you have to do is you have to adjust to your personnel, and we’re trying to learn about our personnel.

“But Quinn is playing great. Tyler is playing really well, too. Quinn is a natural point guard. Tyler can play both. Tyler is just a really good leader. The guys like playing with Quinn because he passes, and when he passes he sees you in places where other people have a hard time seeing you.”

That last part -- the bit about seeing teammates, about teammates liking to play with Cook -- is without question the best argument in favor of handing Cook the keys to whatever exotic car you'd use as an analogy to Duke's offense sooner rather than later. Cook is a pure point guard. That was his m.o. as a prep star, when he ranked No. 7 at the position and No. 36 overall in the class of 2011. Duke doesn't necessarily need a "pure" point guard to handle the ball and set up teammates, because it did just fine last season with both Kyrie Irving (a scoring point) and, when Irving was injured for most of the season, Nolan Smith (a combo-guard who took his scoring off the dribble to a new level in 2011), neither of whom fit the always-shaky preconceived notion of what it means to be a "pure" point.

Likewise, that Duke frontcourt is crowded. (Finding minutes for Rivers, Curry and Andre Dawkins has already been something of a challenge, and Krzyzewski has already tinkered with numerous lineup combinations this season.) Plus, Coach K clearly likes Thornton's leadership and steady play.

Still, one can't help but think Cook's skill set -- reading defenses, setting up teammates, working off those spaced-out screen and rolls Duke has used to such great effect the past two seasons -- is a much better fit than Thornton's. Cook could defer, Kendall Marshall-like, to the coterie of talented teammates around him. He could focus entirely on setting up the likes of Curry and Dawkins for those deadly open threes, and could help relieve some of the pressure applied to Rivers, who has been the team's dominant ballhandler and most aggressive scorer -- sometimes to his own detriment -- this season.

Coach K isn't going to suddenly toss Cook into the fire. More likely, he'll bring him along slowly, increasing his minutes as he gets more and more comfortable with his role. But at least in theory, he appears to be worthy of some serious run in the coming weeks. Cook's skills, plus that sharpshooting backcourt? That sounds like a scary recipe, doesn't it?


Michael in Louisville writes: In the Louisville vs. Kentucky game, do you honestly think Louisville fouled as much as they were called for? UK had 32 points from the line, that's 46% of their total points. And it wasn't just UL getting the bad calls, UK had some too. Is this the difference between the Big East and SEC? The SEC is no where near as physical as the Big East. No wonder UK is undefeated at home, they get almost all of the calls.

Brennan: In his postgame news conference -- which was really just him standing outside the Louisville locker room in front of a huge scrum of media -- Cardinals coach Rick Pitino was asked whether he thought the referees called the game so tight because they were concerned with the heated nature of the rivalry and determined to avoid a repeat of Cincinnati-Xavier, which the refs clearly facilitated (if not caused) by not managing the game better throughout. Pitino's response: "I just thought they were fouls."

He rightfully took issue with a couple, specifically the loose-ball foul on Peyton Siva that sent the point guard to the bench with four at the 9:33 mark in the second half. Siva and Doron Lamb were both scrambling for the ball, and it looked like Siva had his hand on it when the whistle blew. During the game, Pitino turned to the photographers and media assembled along the baseline near his bench and complained to no one in particular: "That's two guys going for the ball!" He was right. Bad call.

That play and a hasty technical on freshman Chane Behanan were huge plays that certainly hurt Louisville's chances. And Gorgui Dieng's second-half foul trouble was a major issue. But as far as I could tell (and I haven't watched a recording of the game since Saturday), most of the fouls Louisville was whistled for were, as Pitino said, fouls. The Cardinals had to foul. With Behanan on the bench so long, Louisville was simply overmatched physically. Fouling frequently wasn't the worst strategy, considering Kentucky's questionable accuracy at the free throw line this season. But I don't think the disparity in calls was due to home cooking or bad officiating; I just think Louisville needed to foul to stop Kentucky's athletic frontcourt (specifically Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) from getting easy buckets on the block.


Mike Jones in Connecticut writes: I fail to see your logic at all when saying Louisville is overranked at No. 10. They lost two tight games against two top 10 teams yet they should behind teams like Wisconsin, Florida, and Mississippi State, who all have poor losses? Why not use UNC as an example, a team who has a worst loss (against UNLV) than Louisville? UNC is No. 3 with no wins against the top 10. No wins. Yet you use Louisville as an example, and not the unimpressive Tar Heels. ESPN must have something against Louisville because the Cards don't receive any respect, such as when one of your co-workers placed Louisville behind Marquette in the Big East Power Rankings. Really? Marquette got obliterated versus Vanderbilt at home, when Louisville beat Vanderbilt.

Brennan: The Marquette argument is reasonable, but I wasn't comparing Louisville to Marquette. I was comparing them to Indiana. The point was, look: Indiana clearly has a better resume to date. If we were seeding teams for the NCAA tournament, Indiana would almost certainly be seeded higher. But because the polls work the way they do, and voters vote as much on last week's rankings and reputation as on actual results, Louisville was still ranked higher than the Hoosiers. That made zero sense.

This was not intended to insult the Cardinals. It was intended to insult the polls -- which, thankfully, don't matter. I think Louisville is a very good team, but they were ranked No. 4 because they were undefeated without any truly captivating wins. (Vanderbilt at home? Come on.) They're ranked No. 10 because they were ranked No. 4. See what I mean?


jagwalkley in Spokane, Wash. writes: Gonzaga forward Sam Dower sure reminds me of a guy named Sam Perkins. Soft hands and kind of sleepy, you would think, until he does something. Watch this kid the next couple of years. What do you think?

Brennan: I think a Sam Perkins comparison is fair, as long as we recognize that Sam Perkins was an absolute beast all four years of his college career. (And he was such an effective and altogether fun pro, too. Speaking of which, anytime there's an old game on NBATV, I hope Sam Perkins is playing. Fortunately, because he played on approximately 8,000 NBA teams during his career, he usually is.) Dower has some of the same skills, to be sure, including that gentle left hand. I saw him Saturday night at Xavier, and he was masterful. After the game, Xavier coach Chris Mack said Dower was a "pro."

It's hard to find guys that size with that sort of perimeter touch; Dower has it, and it's a promising weapon for the future. We'll see how he improves this season and in years to come, especially when he's handed more playing time. In the meantime, Mark Few can bring Dower off the bench to play in place of starters Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. If Dower plays anything like he did Saturday, well, that's an awfully impressive substitute.


@rmj_equals_hero (whose awesome Twitter avatar is a Hoopsbag staple at this point) writes: If the print media actually understood tempo-free stats, wouldn't Mike Scott be ACC POY so far?

Brennan: Well, that would also require there to be an ACC POY award vote at this point of the season, and there isn't, and so now we're dealing with multiple hypotheticals and my head is starting to spin. (It does that sometimes.)

Let's just say this: Mike Scott has been fantastic, and his credentials -- like any good player from any good but brutally slow team, which Virginia is -- shouldn't be looked down upon simply because his coach prefers to crawl the ball up the court. Scott's done it all: Despite being the focal point of his team's attack, the fifth-year senior has posted an offensive rating of 125.9, and ranks in the top 50 players in the country in effective field goal percentage, true shooting, and offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.

Without him, the Cavaliers aren't ranked. They aren't a sleeper ACC pick. They aren't a potential NCAA tournament team. No ACC player has been this good this consistently in 2012, and no ACC player is more important to his team.


@clintonpriddy writes: As the obvious best team in the OVC, does Murray State have to win the conference tourney or does a one-loss Racers team get in?

Brennan: That scenario presupposes that Murray State will win out in the regular season. While that's possible (incredibly so, actually) -- Pomeroy's probabilities give the Racers at least an 82 percent chance of winning the rest of their regular-season games -- it's still not probable. More likely than not, Murray State will lose at least one game in the next two months. Everyone does, right?

If the undefeated regular season does indeed come to fruition, then it would be almost unfathomable to see Murray State miss out on the NCAA tournament. Sure, its strength of schedule won't be great, and its marquee wins will be limited to that road win at Memphis and (maybe) that nice win against Dayton. And yeah, the OVC is pretty awful. But could the committee really assert that Murray State doesn't deserve to be in if it loses one measly game? And in the conference tournament, no less? I find that very difficult to believe.

Of course, Murray State could make it easy on everyone and just win the conference tournament. That's the most likely scenario, and certainly one the committee -- not to mention a handful of shaky bubble teams -- are wholeheartedly rooting for. Me? I just think an undefeated season would be awesome.


@WarriorBrad writes: Should Pitt and Wisconsin fans be worried about their slow starts?

Brennan: Pitt, yes. Wisconsin, no.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. In Wisconsin's case, a loss at home to the same Iowa team that got drubbed by Campbell in Iowa City just a few weeks back is decidedly disconcerting, but it's hardly cause for panic. The Badgers aren't quite as good as their per-possession numbers would assert, but they have been very good, and one assumes Jordan Taylor will return to form at some point in the next few weeks. Bottom line, Wisconsin will be there.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, appears to be genuinely shaky. Why? The Panthers play uncharacteristically bad defense; they allow just over a point per possesion, and are ranked No. 174 in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. They aren't going to be able to get away with that in the Big East, especially on the road, as they found out during a trip to South Bend two days after Christmas. Let's see how the return of injured point guard Travon Woodall affects this squad before we render any final judgements, but bottom line: If Pitt defends like this all season, it's going to be an unusually mediocre year for this typically consistent program.


Lianne McGlade writes: You have to post this buzzer beater! My son Oliver McGlade hit a 3-pointer from half court to win the Porreco Cup at Gannon University 103-100 in double overtime! He plays for Seton Hill University and they beat Gannon to win their first-ever Porreco Cup!

Brennan: Lianne is such a proud mother! I love this.

In any case, Lianne included a link to a Yfrog video, which you can see here. You might have to turn your monitor upside down to see it -- if you have a desktop, do a handstand, I guess? -- but in any case, it's there.

This mention is probably small potatoes now, because McGlade's play made the SportsCenter top 10 (at No. 2, no less) Saturday. Before today, I admit I had absolutely no idea what Seton Hill or Gannon University or the Porreco Cup or the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC if you're nasty) was. But if there's anything we know about Division II hoops, it's that they're good for at least one insane, SC-worthy play per season. It would appear Oliver McGlade, son of the proudest mom on the World Wide Web, is this year's honoree. Well done, Ollie. (I just assume Lianne calls Oliver "Ollie." Has to, right?)
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